The Importance of Research Management (and moving on from the University Bubble…)
Working for 25 years within a research support service environment I thought I knew pretty much all I needed to about research management but, as they say, how wrong was I? (And the reference to University bubble is meant in its kindest sense).
Having worked for the University of Manchester for 11 years, with fantastic administrative and academic colleagues, I recognise a relatively comfortable environment can make it easy to consider only the immediate pressures and responsibilities that we have in our role. However the amount of amazing work that is going on in health and life science research in the North in its largest sense, doesn’t always get the right amount of recognition it should, particularly amongst ‘lay’ people, like myself, and that might include some research administration colleagues within Universities.
Supporting academics in obtaining funding to undertake research and then supporting the management of those projects, which in turn leads to new knowledge and the development of innovative solutions is fundamental, but how that fits into the bigger picture of evaluation, diffusion and adoption within the NHS and Social Care organisations can sometimes be lost.
We must remember the research we support can help academics and clinicians influence national policymakers which is really important. It is easy to lose sight of how what we do in research management can ultimately have a positive impact on patient benefit in the long run because of the facilitative function we provide.
My background in university administration, and now working within the Northern Health Science Alliance, has I hope given me a deeper understanding of the challenges that academics, researchers and clinical academics face. This is not only in navigating the complex administrative processes involved in obtaining funding and managing projects, but also the challenges they face turning their research into realisable results, which will benefit the wider public and patient population.
Reflecting on my experiences in research management, it would be really useful to encourage all those working in research administration, at whatever level, to try to gain a wider appreciation of what the research being done is actually about (not at a micro level but maybe the overall objectives).
This could be done perhaps by allowing research support staff to shadow researchers (and vice versa); encouraging colleagues to gain an appreciation of what the stages in the innovation pathway are and understand why health economics is so important. The list can go on but increasing our understanding of how administrators contribute to this whole process can surely only be a good thing?